Q. I often read reviews online before I buy products or make travel plans. How can I tell if they're legit or were planted on websites to increase sales?
A. It can be tough, but typically the more reviews a product has, the more reliable the feedback, good or bad.
See also: Shop smart for tech products.
Where you read it also matters. You can generally expect a higher level of authenticity at high-volume sites like Amazon; Buzzillions, which collects reviews from retailers who have asked purchasers to review products; CNET, which specializes in tech products, and of course, Consumer Reports, which routinely surveys its subscribers about their experiences in addition to doing its own product testing.
Epinions is another go-to site, but you should realize that the site pays some of its reviewers (based on how often their comments guide readers' buying decisions, Epinions says).
Be suspicious when praise is over-the-top ("This is the best product ever made!") and when words such as "easy," "fast results" or "amazing" are overused. Obviously, too-good-to-be-true promises — such as making $1,000 a day after buying a kit that helps you work from home — are just that.
Also be wary of first-name-only posts ("Bob," "Sue"), monikers with a company name ("MeLoveAcme"), or frequent misspellings and grammatical errors, which suggest a too-busy paid reviewer.
Recent research at Cornell University shows that fake reviews of Chicago hotels tended to have more verbs and contain more scene-setting language, frequently using words such as "vacation," "business" or "my husband."
Conversely, truth-tellers tend to use more nouns and concrete words to describe facilities, features or service, such as "bathroom," "check-in" and "price."
Also of interest: Sell that old smartphone. >>
Sid Kirchheimer writes about consumer and health issues.